Information on the causes of colic in fussy babies with stomach pain or cramps, and tips to help calm colicky babies.

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  1. What is Colic?
  2. Diagnosing Colic
  3. What Causes Colic?
  4. Help for Colic
  5. More Information on Colic

What is Colic?

Colic is one of those conditions that affect babies - one that just doesn’t seem fair. Your baby is so very new to this big world and what an introduction to life! Medically speaking, colic is defined as crying for more than three hours a day, three days per week, for longer than three weeks in an otherwise happy and healthy baby.

You may also notice that it tends to get worse at certain times of the day (most commonly during the evenings or at night) and that these episodes can last anywhere between a few minutes to a few hours. As your baby cries, it is also common to see them clench their little firsts, pull up their legs, tighten their abdominal muscles and squirm into different positions to try and relieve abdominal cramps.

Colic usually begins between 0 and 2 months and while not all infants get it is a fairly common problem experienced in the first few months of life. The good news is that there are a few simple ways to help soothe your infant’s crying and discomfort, and while it can be a terribly frustrating time for you and baby, colic is a temporary phase that will eventually end. By 3 months, the colic should pass and you and your baby can return back to your usual sleep routines.

Diagnosing Colic

Colic is usually recognized when you’re well-fed, healthy and otherwise satisfied infant won’t stop crying. While all babies cry (as it is their only means of communication), babies with colic cry much more than usual, and when they cry it seems that little can console them. Colic is usually diagnosed or confirmed if your baby cries more than three hours each day over a period of three weeks or more and no other cause is found.

If your baby’s crying is worrying you, your baby’s pediatrician will check for other causes of discomfort such as intestinal obstruction, or illness and if nothing is found, colic is often the diagnosis. Other tests are generally not necessary, as colic, while distressing for baby and family, is not serious and not associated with other complications.

What causes Colic?

There is little known about what causes colic, although, as mentioned above most, research agrees that colic is a gastrointestinal problem possibly associated with an immature digestive system. Other theories suggest that it is caused by lactose intolerance, allergies, mother’s anxiety or the different positions that baby is fed. Whatever the underlying cause, colic is often associated with painful stomach cramps or stomach ache and intestinal gas and many parents have noticed that their infants do feel better after they have passed wind or had a bowel movement.

Help for Colic

Colic is something that will disappear on its own and because it is not considered to be harmful there aren’t many conventional treatments available. Some pediatricians will recommend anti-gas medication such Mylicon or antispasmodics such as Levsin for treating colic, however, there is little evidence to support the effectiveness of these medications and many have been known to have side effects.

More Information on Colic

The DO’S and DON’TS of Handling Colic
  • Do consider eliminating milk products, eggs, wheat, nuts and berries from your diet if you are breastfeeding as this can provide some relief from colic. You can also restrict very acidic foods, spicy foods and caffeine and keep your diet fairly bland. It’s also a good idea to start a food diary and begin by eliminating all problem foods. You can then slowly start to re-introduce them into your diet while noting baby’s colic reaction.
  • Do drink herbal teas such as chamomile, vervain and lemon balm instead of your usual tea or coffee as these have a soothing effect on both mother and breastfed baby.
  • Do try experiment with a few simple feeding changes and see if you notice any changes:
  • Try feeding your baby more frequent smaller feeds every 2-3 hours.
  • If your baby is bottle fed ensure that the nipple size and shape is correct for your baby’s age
  • If your baby takes less than 20 minutes to complete a feed, you may need to swap over to a smaller bottle nipple
  • Talk to your pediatrician about changing to a hypoallergenic formula
  • While feeding your infant always ensure that they are in diagonal position with their heads higher than their feet
  • Always burp baby frequently. This can be done every 10min of breastfeeding and every 30 to 60ml of bottle feeding
  • Do make sure that your baby is not swallowing air while feeding as this can result in wind and furthers their discomfort
  • Do make sure that you are taking care of your own needs. Colic is tying for both baby and parents so do not hesitate to ask for help and be sure to get in a little relaxing "me-time" each day.
  • Don’t stop breastfeeding. Colic is equally likely to occur in both breastfed and bottle-fed babies.
  • Don’t switch and swap your baby’s formula brand. If you are considering changing to a new brand, speak to your pediatrician first.
  • Don’t hesitate to call your pediatrician if you are concerned. In many cases where colic is assumed, it turns out there were other medical reasons for the crying such as an ear infection or food allergy that may need to be dealt with.
  • Don’t wait until you have reached the point of desperation before asking someone for help. Accept babysitting offers and look after yourself. If ever you feel like hurting or shaking your baby, simply put baby in a safe place like their crib and leave the room for a few minutes while you gather your composure – then call someone to relieve you of baby duty for an hour or two.

Tips on soothing a colicky baby:

Caring for a colicky baby is no easy task and it tends to bring up a lot of emotion, especially for new parents or parents of babies whose colic is particularly bad or ongoing. The important thing to remember is that you are not doing anything wrong, and colic is just one of those things that happen. Below are a few simple techniques that may help soothe your colicky infant:

  • Motion tends to help with colic so try different ways of keeping your baby moving. Rocking in a cradle or rocking chair to soothing music is effective, as is simply walking with your baby or bouncing them gently in your arms. Other useful methods are to take them for a drive in the car, or to hold them on top of a running dishwasher or washing machine as the bouncing vibrations are relaxing. Experiment with different motion methods and alternate betweens the ones you find work best.
  • Wrap a warm water bottle (not hot) in a towel and place on your baby’s stomach to help soothe the cramps.
  • Provide a pacifier as the sucking motion is comforting and soothing to infants.
  • Gently rub your baby’s stomach or give them a relaxing baby massage with soothing oils. Infant massage with specialized "baby-safe" aromatherapy oils can be wonderfully calming and soothing to a colicky baby and it allows for a quiet bonding moment between mother and child. When massaging your infant, use slow, soft and gentle strokes. Remember to listen to and watch your baby's reactions and respond accordingly.
  • If your baby can support its own head, then try putting them in a wind-up swing.
  • Give your baby a warm bath.
  • Swaddle your baby in a soft blanket and hold them close. Alternatively, try the "kangaroo method" of skin-to-skin by wrapping your baby against your bare skin. This is the most natural position for baby and can be very soothing if they are distressed.
  • Sing and talk gently to your baby. Your voice is a comfort as well as a much needed distraction from the discomfort.
  • Increase steady background noise. A relaxing CD, the hum of electrical appliances, a ticking clock or a steady "shhh" sound can be relaxing.
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